Annual Pride celebrations worldwide are cherished moments for a community whose fight for equity has never been afforded the luxury of rest. Queer folx (a gender-inclusive expression of “folks”) and their allies have historically embraced Pride as moments to share the joy of inclusion—not to mention to remind the greater population that the fight for equity continues beyond a single month’s parade.
Companies across the country are changing how they approach Pride and doubling down on their efforts to show their support and affect change for the LGBTQ+ community. We talked with three change leaders that are doing their part and then some.
A Step Beyond Sponsorship: Supplier Diversity
Twenty-one years ago, Elise Lindborg and her wife, Kelli Henderson, didn’t advertise, much less mention, the fact that they were gay when recruiting new clients for their promotional products company.
“We originally didn’t want to be known as the ‘gay’ business,” says Lindborg. But things changed: Lindborg and Henderson rebranded from their original name (Zippy Dogs) to Brand|Pride—an unapologetically queer-owned company that helps some of America’s largest companies diversify their supply chains.
In 2018, Lindborg and Henderson learned firsthand just how non-diverse the Pride supply chain was. At an event for Fortune 500 employee resource groups, they surveyed 1,200 of the 6,000 attendees who stopped by their booth with one question: Do you use LGBTQ+ vendors for Pride? Only 6% of respondents said yes.
“We told these folks, ‘It’s great that you show up for Pride, but you need to expand your LGBTQ+ inclusion,’” says Lindborg. “Some of these companies were spending between $200,000-$300,000 per year to celebrate Pride,” but weren’t necessarily considering the diversity (or lack thereof) of the suppliers they retained.
The next year, Brand|Pride worked with 26 companies with their Pride spend, helping direct orders ranging from $500 to $200,000 to LGBTQ+ suppliers. In 2020, they had 45 companies lined up, and then the pandemic hit, putting a damper on more inclusive spending. But that hasn’t hindered how Lindborg and her team are getting Pride out nationwide.
Making Change Fun and Easy
This year BrandIPride is offering an easy and affordable way to celebrate Pride and direct dollars to LGBTQ+ suppliers. It’s called Pride in a Box—a kit containing everything from balloons to banners to bandanas for DIY Pride celebrations—which are 95% sourced from LGBTQ+-owned companies. Corporate customers and their allies are the box’s biggest buyers. “Right now, there are a lot of allies showing their support,” says Lindborg. For her, that’s a powerful shift in the Pride community. “The more people see who we are, who we are becomes less of a big deal.” And more allies means it’s easier to be safely out in more places.
As the push for equity continues, Lindborg and her company will keep encouraging businesses to diversify their supply chains to be truly inclusive. “Companies want to do better, we find. They just don’t know how to start. We’re here to help them start and build the relationships to continue down a more inclusive path.”
Answering the Call to Action
One client that heard Brand|Pride’s call to action loud and clear is T-Mobile. “In 2020, we spent more than $2.9B through our supplier diversity program as part of our commitment to grow a robust supply chain that reflects our diversity and values,” says Holli Martinez, the company’s Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion.
“We also work closely with organizers to ensure our donations go to programs and initiatives that make a difference in advancing equality for the LGBTQ+ community,” Martinez says. “For example, each year our Pride employee resource group gives a grant to an organization of their choice, and for the last two years, they have given $20,000 to GLSEN, an organization committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment.”
Next-Level Support: Taking a Greater Stake
To say country music and queerness have a troubled history would be an understatement. Yet for Deborah Fairchild, president of VEVA Sound, a Nashville-based technology company specializing in music production and audio archiving, the U.S. hub for country music is where she found a foothold for her identity.
"I've lived in a number of cities where [our company] has offices, but when I moved to Nashville and married my wife Shelly, it was really her who inspired me to be authentic in my identity," says Fairchild. "I've never been ashamed or embarrassed of my identity, but I was definitely guarded in professional settings."
Fairchild is married to country artist Shelly Fairchild, one of country music's few openly queer artists.
"The way Shelly lives, out there and proud of who she is, has grown the way I celebrate my identity every day, not just at Pride," says Fairchild.
While VEVA's participated in Nashville Pride celebrations since 2019, Fairchild knew that to truly affect change in Nashville's queer culture, larger companies like hers had to step up to the plate. The company's proudly been a part of Ty Herndon's Concert for Love and Acceptance, a June country music event for Pride headlined by some of the genre's biggest names, and Pride in Local Music, which spans multiple genres, organized by the Nashville and Austin LGBT Chambers of Commerce. While both concerts will go virtual this year for the safety of the artists and crowd, it's a groundbreaking year for VEVA to be involved: the Nashville performances for Pride in Local Music will be filmed at the historic Ryman Auditorium, former home to the Grand Ole Opry.
"This will be the first time a Pride show is located at the Ryman, which brings a wonderful progression in Nashville and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ artists performing on the iconic stage," says Fairchild.
VEVA joins other big names in the country music industry in financially supporting Nashville Pride. And while change doesn't happen overnight, Fairchild sees her company's unwavering support of Pride and queer country artists year-round as a step in the right direction—not just for country music, but for her as well.
"Inclusion is a humanitarian issue," says Fairchild. "Just as VEVA supports community causes all of the time, by acknowledging and celebrating Pride, you’re creating space for people to be authentic. Supporting Pride says, 'I see you, and there’s space here for you to be you.' As someone who has spent much of my professional life guarded and walled-off, this is more important than most realize."
What You Can Do
To make Pride less of a one-off event and more of a practice in year-round humanity, contact Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) or an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in your area.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.